The Secret to Building a Better Body: Drop Sets


I recently overheard a couple of ladies discussing drop sets in the gym change room. The ladies were in super shape, so I’d like to learn more about the workout. Are drop sets the best way to lift weights?

A “drop set” is weightlifting lingo for a high-intensity technique used to build muscle. Essentially, you start lifting very, very heavy weights (more than you’d normally lift). You complete reps until you feel like you can’t lift anymore. Then, just before your body gives out, you take about 15 to 20 per cent of the weight off your bar. You then try to do a few more reps.

Yes it builds muscle, but being in good shape (and looking it) involves many factors including, body type, body fat percentage and your method of weight training.

Most weight training only brings your muscles to momentary failure. The “drop set”‘ increases muscle size because it recruits deep muscle fibers (as you bring your muscles to absolute failure).

Momentary Vs. Absolute Failure

Muscle failure occurs when your muscles cannot perform a given exercise with your current weight selection (i.e. you can’t squeeze out 10 reps with your 20-pound dumbbell, this is your muscles momentary failure).

By lowering your weight selection after your muscles begin to fail (by 15 to 20 per cent), you can push your body to perform eight to 12 repetitions before your muscles reach absolute failure (they can’t go any further).

Why Do Drop Sets Tone You So Fast?

When you work muscles against fatigue, they break down; when your body is at rest your muscles repair themselves and become stronger. Therefore, the more muscle you break down the bigger and stronger your muscles become.

Here’s How to Perform a Drop-Set Workout

Start with a weight heavier than you’re used to. Perform between eight and 12 reps — this should be the point where you think you can’t lift anymore (momentary failure). “Drop” the amount of weight you’re lifting and complete eight to 12 more repetitions. Repeat each set three times, resting for two to five minutes between each set (depending on what your body needs).

Recommended Equipment

If you’re working out alone, I recommend using the weight machines or so you can quickly and easily change up your weights.

Weight Selection

15 to 20 per cent more weight than you’d normally lift.

Choose Your Drop Style

  • The “big drop” is when you start with 15 pounds more than you’re used to lifting, then drop down to 10.
  • The “tight drop” is when you start with 12 pounds more then drop to 10 (more difficult).

Recommended exercises for a full-body “drop set” workout:

Warm-up: 10 minutes of any cardio machine
Weightlifting Exercises:
1. Squats or leg presses
2. Chest presses
3. Back rows or lat pull downs
4. Triceps: Machine or kick-backs with dumbbells
5. Biceps: Machine or bicep curls with dumbbells
6. Shoulders
Cardio: 10 to 15 minutes of exercise on any cardio machine (to increase circulation to the muscles)
Abs: Planks (to strengthen the abdominal muscles)
Cool-down: Stretch each muscle group for 30 seconds to one minute.

Never lift more than you can hold onto with proper form — this is how you get injured. This workout is designed to increase your muscle mass and should only be performed once or twice a week. Make sure you allow a 48 to 72 hours between any muscle strengthening program to allow your body time to repair itself.

Sarah Brown is a very healthy woman. She is not only a fitness instructor at Goodlife where she teaches Body Pump, Body Flow, cycling, bootcamp and yoga but she is also a registered holistic nutritionist.

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